Niranjan Shrestha, Associated Press
KATMANDU, Nepal — Most Sherpa mountain climbers have decided to leave Mount Everest, a guide said Tuesday, confirming a walkout certain to disrupt a climbing season that was already marked by grief over the 16 lives lost in Everest's deadliest disaster.
"It is just impossible for many of us to continue climbing while there are three of our friends buried in the snow," said Dorje Sherpa, an experienced Everest guide from the tiny Himalayan community that has become famous for its high-altitude skills and endurance.
"I can't imagine stepping over them," he said of the three Sherpa guides who remain buried in ice and snow after Friday's deadly avalanche. Thirteen bodies have been recovered.
The avalanche was triggered when a massive piece of glacier sheared away from the mountain along a section of constantly shifting ice and crevasses known as the Khumbu Icefall — a teacherous area where overhanging immensities of ice as large as 10-story buildings hang over the main route up the mountain.
Special teams of Sherpas, known as Icefall Doctors, fix ropes through what they hope to be the safest paths, and use aluminum ladders to bridge crevasses. But the Khumbu shifts so much that they need to go out every morning — as they were doing when disaster struck Friday — to repair sections that have broken overnight and move the climbing route if needed.
Earlier Tuesday, Nepal's government appeared to agree to some of the Sherpas' demands in the threatened boycott, such as setting up a relief fund for Sherpas who are killed or injured in climbing accidents, but the funding falls far short of the Sherpas' demands.
After the avalanche, the government quickly said it would pay the families of each Sherpa who died 40,000 rupees, or about $415. The Sherpas said they deserved far more — including more insurance money, more financial aid for the victims' families and new regulations that would ensure climbers' rights.
On Tuesday, the government's offer was modified to include a relief fund to help Sherpas injured in mountaineering accidents and the families of those killed, and to pay for rescue during accidents on the mountain. The government said it would stock the fund annually with 5 percent of its earnings from Everest climbing fees — well below the 30 percent the Sherpas are demanding. Nepal earns some $3.5 million annually in Everest climbing fees.
The insurance payout for those killed on the mountain will also be doubled to $15,620 (2 million rupees), the Ministry of Tourism said — far short of the Sherpas' demand for $20,800.
The walkout decision was made after a memorial service at base camp for the victims, Dorje Sherpa said, adding that most guides were planning to pack up and leave as early as Wednesday.
"We want to honor the members we lost and out of respect for them we just can't continue," he said.
Most attempts to reach the summit are made in mid-May, when weather is most favorable. If the Sherpas boycott the season, many climbers will have to forfeit most or all of the money they have spent to go up Everest — at a cost of $75,000 or more.
The Nepal National Mountain Guide Association will try to negotiate with the Sherpas and the government because a total boycott would harm Nepal's mountaineering in the long term, the group's general secretary, Sherpa Pasang, said.
While most climbers have to make multiple passes through the Icefall, moving up and down the mountain as they acclimatize and prepare for their summit attempt, Sherpas make the dangerous journey two dozen times or more, carrying supplies and helping clients negotiate the hazardous maze of ice.
"We look up at these chunks of ice blocks, pray and then try to get out of the area as fast as we can," said 34-year-old Nima Sherpa, who did not make the ascent this season.
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